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Offseason Primers: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ron Rivera's first season as head coach in Carolina resulted in a 6-10 record, but there was plenty of optimism about a playoff run, in part because of the play of Cam Newton.

Instead, the team floundered early in Rivera's second season and finished with a 7-9 record, in part because of the play of Newton. Year 3 of the Rivera era could be the last in Carolina if the team doesn't post a winning record -- and you-know-who will be a huge factor.

2012 Touches Leaders
746 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
DeAngelo Williams 186 (173 car., 13 rec.) 24.9%
Cam Newton 127 car. 17.0%
Jonathan Stewart 110 (93 car., 17 rec.) 14.8%
Mike Tolbert 81 (54 car., 27 rec.) 10.9%
Steve Smith 76 (73 rec., 3 car.) 10.2%
Greg Olsen 69 rec. 9.2%
Brandon LaFell 47 (44 rec., 3 car.) 6.3%
All Others 50 6.7%

The good news for Newton is that his play dramatically improved in the second half of the season, thanks to some tweaks in his game and a favorable schedule. He went from averaging a lousy 17.0 Fantasy points per game in his first seven games to 25.3 per game in his last nine. And for as big a deal as the Panthers' zone-read scheme was, he only scored on six such plays total (compared to 21 in a more standard formation). With many analysts believing defenses will have an answer for the zone-read in 2013, this should be viewed as good news.

And for the first time since his high school days, Newton will be in the same offensive scheme for the third straight year, albeit with a new play caller. Mike Shula replaces Rob Chudzinski as the Panthers offensive coordinator and he's expected to keep most if not all of Chudzinski's offense in place. While there might not be as much creativity as 'Chud' was able to infuse, it keeps Newton comfortable and confident, which is important as he continues to develop.

Newton already will enter 2013 with momentum from last year, but if the Panthers provide him with a good offensive line, he'll have the chance at some monster numbers. And the better he does, the better the Panthers will do. Newton could turn out to be a gem of a pick if he falls to the third round as many expect him to in Fantasy drafts.

DeAngelo Williams -- Offseason sleeper

2012 Target Leaders
490 pass attempts
Steve Smith 138 28.2%
Greg Olsen 104 21.2%
Brandon LaFell 76 15.5%
Louis Murphy 60 12.2%
Mike Tolbert 39 8.0%
Jonathan Stewart 23 4.7%
DeAngelo Williams 20 4.1%
All Others 30 6.1%

Let's be honest: No one's looking for Williams on Draft Day based on how he's done the last two years. He'll be on the wrong side of 30 when the season starts, his rushing average dipped on more carries in 2012 and it would have been practically a full yard lower than the 4.3 average he finished with if not for a 210-yard effort in a meaningless game at New Orleans in Week 17. But before you completely turn your back on Williams, know this: His usage has been a sizable factor in his production as he's failed to post big numbers in part because of a lack of opportunities. Here's proof: Williams has posted 10-plus Fantasy points in half of the 14 games with at least 12 carries he's had over the past three seasons. Make the magic number 13 carries and he's even more efficient, delivering 10-plus Fantasy points in 70 percent of his games. Now there are some fluky stats to help that number up (back-to-back games with 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions last year, for example), but he does not look slow nor does he display any significant decline in ability. If he gets the chance to escape Carolina and play with some consistency in an offense that doesn't let the quarterback hog goal-line work, there's potential for a 1,000-total-yard, eight-touchdown season.

Jonathan Stewart -- Sleeper

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Cam Newton 20-30 overall
Steve Smith 65-75 overall
Jonathan Stewart 65-75 overall
DeAngelo Williams 75-90 overall
Greg Olsen 90-100 overall
Brandon LaFell Late-round pick
Mike Tolbert Late-round pick
Panthers DST Undrafted
Scenario A has the Panthers keeping DeAngelo Williams, muddying up what would otherwise be a delightful running back situation. Scenario B: The aforementioned delightful running back situation, where Williams is somewhere else and Stewart gets a decent amount of work every week. With a restructured contract in hand (proof the team wants him) and just 93 carries from a season ago, the 26-year-old stands to work as the primary rushing force in the Carolina offense. He was on his way there last year, getting 10-plus carries in six of nine games before hurting his ankle and ultimately having surgery. That's the same amount of 10-carry games he had in 2011, a sign the Panthers tried to lean on him more. There are obvious injury concerns with Stew but he's been a proven 1,000-total-yard guy in the past. The only catch would be touchdown production since he'd almost certainly lose out on goal-line work with Newton and Mike Tolbert in the fold. If Williams is out, Stewart should be in play as a 1,200-total-yard back, easily making him a worthy No. 3 running back.

Mike Tolbert -- Late-round flier

Aside from avoiding the Panthers running backs altogether, perhaps the best idea is to stick Tolbert on the back of your roster with a late pick. His first year in Carolina was gross -- only 54 carries, 27 receptions, 451 total yards and five of his seven touchdowns coming in the final three weeks of the season. But Tolbert split reps with two backs while seeing plenty of playing time as a fullback and a running back. If the Panthers send DeAngelo Williams packing, that should give Tolbert more touches. Throw in Jonathan Stewart's constant ankle and foot problems and one might envision Tolbert working as the full-time back at some point in 2012. At worst, an owner burns a late pick on Tolbert and dumps him after a couple of weeks. At best, Tolbert falls into a 15-touch role on a weekly basis. The risk in taking Tolbert late is low.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Giants WR Victor Cruz still struggling with calf ailment
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) The calf injury that has slowed the comeback of Giants standout wideout Victor Cruz has become a major concern, according to the New York Daily News.

Cruz, who is coming off knee surgery, has not been cleared to practice this week. It remains to be seen if his availability for the start of the regular season is threatened.

He has been sidelined since Aug. 17 and has yet to play in a preseason game. He appears unlikely to participate in the exhibition finale Thursday night at New England.


Report: Bears to release CB Tim Jennings
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(8/30/2015) The Bears are releasing veteran cornerback Tim Jennings, according to ESPN's Adam Shefter.

Jennings played in all 16 games for the Bears last season, recording 50 tackles and a forced fumble.


Report: Redskins front office, coaches want Robert Griffin III out
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(8/30/2015) Members of the Redskins front office and coaching staff want the Robert Griffin III era in Washington to be over, but are being met with resistance from team ownership, according to ESPN.com.

Griffin is out with concussion-like symptoms and quarterback Kirk Cousins has already been tabbed the starter for Week 1 against the Dolphins.

Washington has had trade discussions involving Griffin with other teams, but have not received much interest in return.

Griffin was the second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was named the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year after a dynamic season in which he amassed over 4,000 yards of offense and scored a combined 27 touchdowns.


Browns don't rule out signing Ray Rice with Johnson injury
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(8/30/2015) With rookie running back Duke Johnson dealing with a concussion, Browns coach Mike Pettine didn't rule out signing veteran back Ray Rice to help the team's backfield situation, per Cleveland.com. 

Johnson has no timetable for his return, so Pettine, on a conference call, said "if we have to add a back, we'll look at the list of guys that are available," when asked about reaching out to Rice. 

Rice has not played since 2013, missing all of last season while under suspension for a domestic violence incident with his wife. The Ravens terminated his contract after the issue. 


Jets DT Leonard Williams dealing with knee injury
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams had to leave Saturday's preseason game after sustaining a knee injury, reports the Associated Press. An MRI revealed a muscle strain behind the knee, which is not expected to be a long-term issue

Williams was the team's first-round draft pick in 2015.


Dolphins center Mike Pouncey to undergo MRI on knee
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) After leaving Saturday's preseason game with a knee injury, Dolphins center Mike Pouncey is set to undergo an MRI on Sunday, reports the Palm Beach Post.

"I thought I was OK and I wanted to go back out there and test it out," Pouncey said. "Then I realized I couldn't play."

Despite sustaining the injury which prevented him from playing the rest of the game, Pouncey was not worried about the issue.

"I'm not too concerned about it," Pouncey said. "I'll be back in practice next week. I ain't missing a game, so y'all don't need to worry about that. Don't worry. I'm playing. We've got a big season ahead of us. We're all looking forward to it and I ain't going to miss a moment of it."


Packers' Randall Cobb not worried about shoulder injury
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Despite leaving Saturday's preseason game with a shoulder injury, Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb said he's not concerned with any long-term issues with the injury, reports the team's official website.

"I don't think it will be [a long-term thing]," Cobb said. "We're just taking it day by day right now. We'll find out more [Sunday]."


Browns RB Duke Johnson dealing with concussion
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Browns running back Duke Johnson had to exit Saturday's preseason game after suffering a concussion, reports Cleveland.com. It was Johnson's first preseason game after dealing with a hamstring injury.

"Hopefully he'll be in the protocol and we can get him back as soon as possible," coach Mike Pettine said. "If you had to say the biggest downer of the night, that would be it."


Rams RB Tre Mason suffers strained hamstring
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8/30/2015) Rams running back Tre Mason sustained a hamstring strain during Saturday's preseason game, reports BleacherReport.com.

Mason was able to walk out of the locker room on Saturday without any issues and the team expects him to be ready for the season opener.


Packers WR Randall Cobb (shoulder) out of Saturday game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(8/29/2015) With premier wideout Jordy Nelson already out for the season, the Packers must now sweat out the health of fellow top receiver Randall Cobb, who was taken to the locker room Saturday with a shoulder injury.

The Packers can ill-afford to lose Cobb, who caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

The team has yet to reveal the specifics of the injury.


 
 
 
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